Four and a half years ago when former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo made the trade, it was suppose to solve the franchise’s quarterback woes for at least a decade. The price tag was high–two first round picks, a fringe starting quarterback and a tack-on third–but Jay Cutler ceiling was deemed even higher.
Now in his fifth season in Chicago, Jay Cutler is the highest-rated passer in the franchise’s history and he has a 38-25 record as a starter. He’s led the franchise to a couple of 10-win seasons and a conference championship game in 2010, and he’s managed to put his stamp all over the Chicago Bears’ record books despite an unmistakable lack of talent along the offensive front and at the skill positions.
However, with the Bears fielding what was essentially a new offense in 2013, the expectations were high.
After adding the likes of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery in 2012, the Bears went out and signed free agent tight end Martellus Bennett and retooled the offensive line. And with Jay Cutler entering a contract year with his most talented supporting cast in Chicago to date, the message was clear:
This was (and is) a make-or-break year for Jay Cutler.
And while the early results were enough to further the idea of extending the gunslinger, it looks like Jay Cutler’s tenure in Chicago could be over.
No, it’s not that Jay Cutler isn’t talented, and it has nothing to do with the notion that Cutler isn’t tough. He’s been the heavy bag of the NFC North for half a decade–taking unprotected shot after unprotected shot–and he’s kept on coming.
He proved earlier this year against Pittsburgh that he doesn’t mind delivering a blow either.
Yet, the uncontested fact is that in a town like Chicago–even though we’ve never seen a quarterback of Jay’s ilk–the idea of going 28 years without a championship begins to weigh on everybody. And even when you’re talking about what may be the most talented quarterback the franchise has ever known, the fact that Jay Cutler remains ring-less has the fanbase on edge.
With Cutler sidelined for the next four-to-six weeks, the Chicago Bears are going to struggle to keep pace with the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions in the NFC North, just as they did after a 7-3 start in 2011. And if the Bears miss the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons with Jay Cutler at the helm, it’s hard to justify resigning the mercurial star.
New general manager Phil Emery has run his entire administration against the grain, and he’s made no bones about going out of his way to put his own spin on the direction of this franchise. In his first year, he went out and snagged Brandon Marshall for a couple of third-round picks. In his second season, he was able to go out and make a pair of big splash signings in free agency thanks to a few slight-of-hand salary cap tricks.
Needless to say, the idea of Emery shedding $10 million dollars of salary cap and distancing himself from a trade made by the previous administration that cost two first-round picks and resulted in one trip to the postseason (provided the Bears don’t make the playoffs this season) has to sound pretty alluring.
Then again, the alternatives aren’t great. If the Bears slink to 7-9 or 8-8 they probably won’t have the draft position or the firepower to take a franchise player at the position in the 2014 NFL Draft. And if Cutler isn’t going to be resigned, it’s hard to imagine that the Bears would be willing to spend money on a free agent or leverage picks in a trade.
The only other conceivable move would be to work out a short-term deal for Cutler. And, given that the market is softening with Jay Cutler set to spend the next several weeks inactive, they could likely get him for a reasonable price.
However, if Jay Cutler isn’t willing to risk a one or two-year deal (and given what he’s been through in Chicago, who could blame him if he didn’t), this could be the end of Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears.
Short of the Bears treading water and Cutler leading them through some miraculous run into the postseason (his hopes of getting that Joe Flacco money probably depend up on a pretty deep run, at that), it’s hard to imagine Jay Cutler calling the plays for the Chicago Bears in 2014.
I’m not entirely sure how that makes me feel.